The 2016/17 season was brilliant as an Ajax supporter. It saw the return of attacking, beautiful football that Johan Cruijff would have been proud to see. It saw a return to inspiring performances on the European stage. It had almost everything, except success.
For the second year in a row, Ajax lost out on the Eredivisie title on the final day. There’s nothing to blame but poor performances against middle and low table teams. Feyenoord rarely slipped up in their charge to the title but when they did, Ajax failed to capitalise, often slipping up themselves.
The Amsterdammers then lost to Manchester United in the Europa League final, but come on, we never expected them to win. Mourinho knows how to win a final. It wasn’t pretty, and it didn’t impress anyone, but it gave them the silverware.
So, on the back of two disappointing defeats and the loss of both our manager and captain, what will success look like in the 17/18 season?
There are no two ways about it, Ajax have to win the league. That has, and always will be, the expectation of our historic club. Now, however, it’s more important than ever. The last two years have been crushingly disappointing, and to go for a fourth year without a title could see a significant loss in Ajax’s forward progress.
To put it simply, the players want to win silverware – if Ajax go an embarrassing fourth year without the title I can see key players walking and promising signings going elsewhere. If Ajax want to continue the progress that began with the appointment of Peter Bosz, they need to achieve results, lest they slip to mediocrity.
I’m not saying I expect Ajax to win the Champions League, but an improvement on last year’s campaign would be a great boost for the club. Dropping straight into the Europa League so early was demoralising, and had plenty of people cursing Ajax’s European form.
To be fair, the team were in a shambles when they dropped out of the Champions League. It was early in Bosz’s tenure, and the players were struggling to adapt to a completely new playing style. (Not to mention, half of the team were different players to those that would later play in the late stages of the Europa League.)
What’s better though? Getting slightly further in the Champions League or getting to the final of the Europa League?
It’s a tough call, but reaching the Europa League final last season was no easy task, and it put Ajax back into the conversation of the best clubs in Europe. If the Amsterdammers make it back to the final in the next season, however, I’ll be unhappy with anything but the trophy. I guess this proves that all I want to see from Ajax is progress.
If the Dutch giants were to drop out of the Champions League any earlier than the quarter-finals, I’d be disappointed. It’s not that I think the club are within the 8 best teams in Europe, but I think they have the right to overachieve – we saw that in the Europa League at home against Lyon and Schalke.
The most important thing for Ajax’s future is that they stay in the conversation. They need to be featured on TV across Europe, play in the biggest stadiums, surprise the richest clubs. Only then can they have any chance of keeping their best players and getting the signings to move this brilliant club forward.
KNVB Beker (Domestic cup)
I’d take it, I guess.
It still remains to be seen in what state Ajax find themselves next season. New manager, new captain, new campaign. If the Amsterdammers are able to build upon the foundation that Peter Bosz created, while strengthening the squad with much-needed signings, they’ll find themselves in a brilliant position to achieve something they haven’t done for two years: success.